Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How to Break Your Addiction to Fear

One of the biggest obstacles to pursuing your dreams in your career—or doing anything great in life, for that matter—is fear. Fear can stop you dead in your tracks. It can make you play small. It can keep you from ever growing into a fraction of your potential.

nd yet, as debilitating as fear can be, most people seem to be addicted to feeding it. We love fear! Everywhere you turn, there’s somebody telling us there’s something to be afraid of, and we eat it up. Take a look at the news. How much fear do you see there? Everywhere you look something bad is happening somewhere. The majority of it has little or nothing to do with our own individual lives, but it shapes how we see the world.

My suggestion? Put your fear on a diet! Stop feeding it so much. Fear has its place, absolutely. But that place is not to keep you stuck and small. That place is to help you make good decisions, and to help you avoid unnecessary pain. As I wrote about—Why Fear is Really Your Career’s Best Friend—the trick is to put it to productive use, rather than letting it be the tail wagging the dog.

Look around you. Where are you inviting fear into your life? How much of the nightly news is really important and relevant to your life? Do you really need to know about the latest disaster? Do you really need to know all the gory details about the latest tragedy? What effect would it have on your life if you stopped watching the news altogether and decided to experiment with just scanning the headlines once a day for news that is personally relevant for you?

While you’re at it, notice the stories you create around the news that does affect you. I’ve noticed some stories I'm creating for myself lately in response to the continued malaise of the economy. They’re all future stories, about bad things that might happen to my business. But they have nothing to do with reality! Reality could just as well go the other direction. If I let myself linger in the negative stories, I’m feeding my fear with a made-up reality. How much sense does that make?

How about the divisiveness and demonization of the “other” that is so rampant in both the media and the ideological silos that so many of us live in? Demonizing people with other opinions or ways of seeing things (how many derogatory names for Republicans or Democrats have you seen in the comments section of any online news site?) is inherently about fear.

I know politics is a touchy subject, but whether you lean to the left or the right or some other direction altogether, try an experiment. Whenever you find your emotions coming up in response to someone or some group who sees the world differently than you do, let it be a flag to stop, step back, and take a deep breath. Instead of anger, try looking at it through the lens of curiosity. Let the emotion subside and ask yourself, why do they think this way? What lens are they looking through? Challenge yourself to build an understanding (and understanding doesn’t have to mean agreeing).

What does all of this have to do with your career? On the surface of it, nothing. But if you dig deeper, everything! The fear you feed yourself shapes and forms your perspective of the world. Is it a safe place, or is it a dangerous place? Is it filled with possibility, or are you one step away from getting smacked down? The way you see the world will define what you are willing to try. And what you are willing to try either limits or expands your potential.

I’m not saying never watch the news. I’m not saying you should hide your head in the sand and pretend that bad things never happen. And I’m not saying never disagree with anyone who has a different view on the world than you. I’m simply saying, be aware. Be aware of just how awash we are in fear, and what effect these things can have. Believe me, you’ll find no shortage of fear-inducing things in your life without actively seeking it out. So ask yourself, “What world view do I really want to feed myself—one of fear, or one of possibility?”

By Curt Rosengren

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